Are you a free agent NBA fan? Someone who loves basketball but has never gotten into the pros? Just an NBA fan but no team?
Well, I have a team for you. The Denver Nuggets. Why the Nuggets? Why a team that is 10 hours away from central Iowa and has never made an NBA final?
For starters, I was once a free agent fan. I didn’t get into professional basketball until around 2014, and I didn’t choose to follow a team until a few years after. When I was looking to choose a team, I wanted to pick a team that had the potential to be good but wasn’t good yet.
In 2017, when Monte Morris got drafted in the second round to Denver, a team with a solid young core of Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, it was a seamless fit. Since I became a fan, I have watched them make the playoffs three times, including an appearance in the western conference finals.
As I slowly became a fan of the team, I quickly grew in love with them. As I’ve grown as a fan, I’ve seen more and more comparisons to Iowa State that I think has grown my love for the Nuggets even more. Whatever, I’ve talked too much, here are some reasons why Iowa State fans should cheer on the Nuggets during the NBA playoffs.
Why would he stay?
Whether or not you follow the NBA, you probably know that Nikola Jokić is the runaway favorite for the 2021 MVP award. Jokić is a 7’0 point-center from Sombor, Serbia that has averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game while shooting a split of .556/.388/.868.
He is the best big man in the NBA, the best passing big man of all time and is truly the most unique big man that the NBA has ever seen. Jokić originally became known for being extremely out of shape, maybe because of his habit of drinking a two-liter of pop every single day as a kid, but he is past that. He is slimmed down and was one of 11 players in the league to play in every single game this season.
Jokić is a true mystery and it makes no sense that he’s good at basketball, let alone the MVP, but he is. This has led people to question why he would stay in Denver, a small market team with little success, but his answer has always been that he loves the team and he loves the city.
Does Iowa State have a once-in-a-generation level talent that the media tries to force narratives of him leaving? That’s right, Matt Campbell.
They may be very different in many ways, but Jokić is a talent that is as essential to Denver as Campbell is to Iowa State with a loyalty that is equal.
Resiliency Against Narratives
Last season, in the NBA bubble, the Nuggets overcame a 3-1 lead against the Los Angeles Clippers, becoming the first team in NBA history to overcome two 3-1 deficits in a row. When this happened, all of the talk on ESPN and TNT over the next week was about how the Clippers lost, not how the Nuggets won.
This season, in the first round against the Portland Trailblazers, the majority of the NBA media picked against the Nuggets because they were missing star point guard Jamal Murray and two key role players in Will Barton and PJ Dozier. The sense around the league was “Jokić is good, but he can’t carry a team a series win by himself.”
Naturally, when Denver beat Portland in six games, the narrative shifted to “Damian Lillard has no help, Denver had a better roster.”
Isn’t this all too familiar for Cyclone fans?
“Oregon is more talented, they recruit better.”
“Of course Iowa State beat Oregon, they were the worst team to make a New Years Six bowl.”
It’s a story that we see countless times, but much like Iowa State, there’s nothing the Nuggets love to do then ignore it and keep winning.
Oh c’mon, he’s one of the best Cyclones of all time. Not only that, he’s the second-best current Cyclone in the NBA (behind Tyrese Haliburton) playing valuable minutes on a championship-caliber team.
In his four-year career, Morris has averaged 9.8 points off of the bench with a 5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has been given the nickname Mr. Nugget by the Denver media and fans because of his extremely consistent, clutch play as a reserve.
Recently, Morris was one of the sole reasons that the short-handed Nuggets were able to beat a streaky Portland Trailblazers team in the final two games of the Western Conference Quarterfinals by averaging 25 points, 7 assists and 3.5 rebounds on .441/.438/.813 splits.
Morris earned his 3-year/$27-million contract by being one of the best role players in the entire league, which is enough for Cyclone fans to pull for his team.
I know that I’m biased, but I believe that the Nuggets have the best culture of any team in the NBA.
The culture in Denver is a “next man up mentality.” Players get drafted to Denver and rarely get a shot right away, unless they are too good to be left off of the court. Michael Porter Jr., a future all-star dealt with extremely inconsistent minutes as a rookie, but he stayed the course and is now the team’s second-leading scorer in the playoffs.
Morris spent his entire rookie season in the G-League but waited, and now he’s the most reliant bench piece on the roster.
Austin Rivers, signed with Nuggets two months ago and has said that it’s the best locker room he’s been a part of. Adding that everyone is in it for each other.
As a fan and an outsider, it shows. The ball doesn't stick, it just goes to the open guy, and finds the hoop. Everyone wants to win, no matter the cost.
It’s a culture very similar to that of Iowa State. The culture is to put winning and selflessness above all else, leave the ego at the door. It makes for some fun basketball, and it makes for even sweeter wins.
Jokić is 26-years old, Murray is 24, Porter Jr. is 22, Aaron Gordon and Morris are both 25. The Nuggets aren’t anywhere near their ceiling, they will just continue to get better. They have all of the core outside of Gordon locked up for several years.
Denver was a trendy pick to come out of the western conference until Murray tore his ACL, so I can imagine they will be just as trendy next season.
I challenge you all to embark on this journey with me and become a Nuggets fan, I promise you won’t regret it. Watch them kick off the second round against the Phoenix Suns tonight on TNT at 9 p.m. central.